Not everyone can see past the dust and deterioration of an abandoned space and imagine a gorgeous, elegant design. Leave it to an architect to recognize all the potential, envisioning the changes that could bring the long unused structure to life. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the abandoned building you’re starting with is a modernist classic by Philip Johnson.
The Schlumberger Research Center Administration Building, located in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was completed in 1952. Known locally as “The Philip Johnson Building,” the single story structure housed research scientists and the executive team for an oil and drilling equipment company. It’s set atop an underground garage, and designed in a style architecture fans will recognize as quintessentially Johnson.
It’s a shame we don’t have before-pictures. If we did, we could take in the full transformation of the building, which sat empty for a decade and required extensive restoration. It took BassamFellows eight years to complete the historic renovation, keeping all of the steel, glass and brick bones that make the building so special and accenting them with contemporary elements for a fresh update on midcentury modern style.
If there’s one defining feature of the space, it’s the abundance of natural light streaming into the glass and bricked-in spaces. The result is a feeling of connection to the natural world while remaining protected from the weather, traffic, and activity outside. There’s something serene about the simplicity of the pale gray bricks combined with warm wooden trim. The simple lines and stylish furniture from the firm’s collection reinforce this peaceful vibe.
The central courtyard, with its showcased curving evergreen tree, grounds the structure, and gives it a dash of extra personality. Operable panels allow free air circulation when the weather is nice, so adjacent lounge areas almost feel like they’re outdoors.
BassamFellows uses the building as their headquarters, design studio and showroom. To make sure they did justice to the original structure and its primary architect, they researched the building’s original ratings at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library of Columbia University.
From the architects: “By converting areas that were originally designed as secretarial pools, BassamFellows created large lounge areas that serve as collaborative spaces. This minor change gives the building the perfect mix of private vs. public space and feels completely in step with contemporary ways of working. It’s a wonderful testament to good design that the building is as relevant today as it was radical then. The restoration project recently received a preservation award from Docomomo US.”
Prior to renovation, this building was “virtually unknown” as an example of Philip Johnson’s work. Now, it’s a fitting tribute to the American architect best known for his “Glass House” in New Canaan, Connecticut (1949), sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1953), and Johnson building at the Boston Public Library (1972).
Led by Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows, BassamFellows is a multidisciplinary firm producing architectural projects, modern interiors and high end furniture.
From the firm: “BassamFellows’ pioneering Craftsman Modern aesthetic, which marries architectural authority with a minimal-artisanal philosophy, was introduced with the debut of the iconic BassamFellows Tractor Stool at the 2003 Salone del Mobile in Milan. From its inception, the company has focused on building relationships with some of the world’s leading craftspeople, whilst forging innovative and intelligent collaborations across the worlds of architecture, branding and design.”